PROVIDENCE, N.H. (March 4, 2016) – A New Hampshire House committee has approved a bill that would make jury nullification an official aspect of the state legal system.
A coalition of nine representatives introduced House Bill 1270 (HB1270) in January. The legislation would allow a defendant or defense attorney to request that the court instruct the jury that it has a right to utilize jury nullification. The bill includes language the court must use in instructing the jury.
“Even if you find the state has proved all of the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find that based upon the facts of this case, a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result, and you may find the defendant not guilty.”
The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-8 that HB1270 “ought to pass.” The bill will now move on to the full House for a vote. A favorable committee report increases the chances of passage in the full chamber.
JURY NULLIFICATION OVERVIEW
Juries have the power to nullify a law in an individual case by finding the defendant not guilty, even when he clearly violated the law in question. The jury can use its discretion to determine that the law itself is unjust, immoral, or unconstitutional, and refuse to convict.
The New Hampshire case of Doug Darrell demonstrates how jury nullification works in practice. Police arrested Darrell and charged him with felony cultivating marijuana. He claimed he used marijuana for religious and medical purposes. Although he was clearly guilty by the letter of the law, the jury refused to convict.
Thomas Jefferson defended jury nullification, writing that “if the question relates to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias, the jury undertake to decide both law and fact. If they be mistaken, a decision against right, which is casual only, is less dangerous to the State, and less afflicting to the loser, than one which makes part of a regular and uniform system.”
Jury nullification provides a mechanism for the people to invalidate unjust laws. But most jurors don’t realize they have this power and courts rarely inform them of this option. If HB1270 passes, defendants will have the opportunity to ensure they face a fully-informed jury.
Additional reporting by TJ Martinell